The NHTSA Report Exonerating Tesla Should Terrify the Auto Sector

24 Jan

NHTSA Report

Last week’s National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) report on Joshua Brown’s fatal Autopilot accident does a lot more than exonerate Tesla. It’s a stamp of approval for Tesla’s entire ecosystem and rollout strategy, from Autopilot to data gathering to wireless updates.

Legacy auto makers should be terrified.

As futurist Brad Templeton points out, NHTSA’s report is so favorable to Tesla, it’s hard to believe it was written by the same government agency whose letter to George Hotz compelled him to cancel the Comma One, the only other semi-autonomous driving technology to approach Tesla’s as of 2016.

NHTSA investigator Kareem Habib dismantles every argument critics and competitors have been firing at Tesla since Autopilot was released in October of 2015. The report is explicit: the Tesla crash rate declined 40% after Autopilot’s release. Tesla’s safety technologies are not defective. Tesla is clear about driver responsibility. Tesla provides clear engagement and disengagement alerts.

Tesla should hire Habib. So should Faraday. This guy knows his way around defending autonomy.

Any hopes the legacy automakers might have had that regulators would throttle or halt Tesla’s progress are now shattered. What appeared to be Tesla’s headlong rush toward autonomy is now a three year head start. Why? Because the old guard were so skeptical of self-driving cars—and so terrified of being the first one to have a fatality with a car even temporarily in control—that they ceded the first round of the autonomy wars to Tesla without a fight. Continue reading

I Was Wrong About Faraday Future’s Pricing. Or Was I?

18 Jan

In world of clickbait and fake news, it’s essential that any writer who aspires to credibility admit a mistake. I made a mistake. I based my recent op-ed “Faraday Future’s Killer $290,000 Feature Revealed” on a quote from Faraday backer Jia Yueting to a Chinese news outlet. In analyzing the $290k figure, I used US market pricing for competing models, thereby comparing apples with oranges.

Faraday deserves a fair shake. Let’s compare apples with apples.

Jia claimed the FF-91 would cost “less than ¥2,000,000”, which as of this writing is approximately $293,000. Faraday has confirmed that this figure includes Chinese market taxes and import duties. They also said the FF-91 “will be priced competitively in the premium electric vehicle segment.”

Chinese market taxes and import duties vary, but generously assuming a high end of 40% for a luxury vehicle like the FF-91, the U.S. market price would be around $175,800. Let’s place the Faraday among theoretical competitors one more time: Continue reading

Faraday Future’s Killer $290,000 Feature Revealed

16 Jan

Faraday Future

The saga of Faraday Future could fill a book, but every story needs an ending. Here’s one: Jia Yueting, CEO of LeEco and Faraday’s primary investor, just leaked the price of the FF-91, their first production vehicle.

It is $290,000.

I’ve said all along that Faraday’s problem isn’t their financing, it’s the car. I was wrong. It’s not just the car. It’s the management that demanded this Chinese Homer, a cost-no-object vehicle incorporating a laundry list of every conceivable feature except common sense. That decision could only have come from one man: Jia Yueting himself. In no universe would any of the auto industry veterans he hired approve of this monstrosity. Continue reading

rPlate Is The License Plate Of The Future, Unfortunately

13 Jan

rPlate

Have you heard of the Internet-of-Things? People selling things you don’t need call it the IoT. The IoT is the idea that anything that can be “connected” should be. My dad didn’t live long enough to see the IoT, but he had a saying that sums up the IoT perfectly.

Anything is possible, but not everything is necessary.

Welcome to the rPlate, “the world’s first digital license plate & cloud app store”, a claim that is both fearsome and half true. Half-true because a cursory web search unearthed a company called Compliance Innovations, who have been trying to sell a connected license plate since 2013. Fearsome because where Compliance Innovations appears to have stalled, rPlate is forging ahead by adding features everyone will love, except drivers.

Drivers, of course, aren’t the customer.

Based on rPlate manufacturer Reviver’s site, their primary targets are DMVs and fleets. The actual product isn’t the plate itself, but a “connected car innovation platform” that automates vehicle registrations and turns your plates into billboards. Add telematics, location tracking and app development, and what little privacy we have left is annihilated.

Like it or not, the business model has promise. The registration component makes sense. Why didn’t this seem to work for Compliance Innovations? Possibly because of their focus on compliance for individual drivers. Would you really want your plate to change from this:

Read the rest over at The Drive

Why Mobility Will Turn Transportation Into Healthcare…

12 Jan

Mobility

TO: Tim Cook, CEO
Apple Computer
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014
1/2/2023

Re: Apple iMobility Customer Service

Dear Mr. Cook:

I’m writing to you about a problem with my monthly Apple iMobility “MultiPass” subscription service.

The problem is: It sucks.

Let’s start with what Apple promised in its Press Release:

“SAN FRANCISCO — September 8, 2022 — Apple today unveiled Apple iMobility, a single, intuitive app that combines the best ways to get from A to B, all in one place. Apple iMobility is a revolutionary platform aggregating all modes of transportation wherever you live—whether you ride, hail, pool, share or drive—via a convenient flat-rate subscription service, redefining Mobility-as-a-Service…”

One price to get me anywhere in NYC? Everything plus self-driving cabs? Loved the idea. I had lots of choices—DidiMo, Uber, Tesla, Toyota’s CommUt, WayMo, GoNow—but I’d been holding out for Apple. You were late to the game, which meant you were doing it right … right? I was willing to pay a little more for upgraded cars and solo rides, so I happily lined up, in the rain, outside the Soho Apple store for Milla Jovovich to sign my Apple iMobility MultiPass.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Faraday’s Biggest Problem Isn’t The Money

10 Jan

Faraday

Faraday has a big problem, but it’s not their questionable finances.

It’s the car.

The FF-91 reveal was a make-or-break moment for Faraday, and as SNL’s Stefon would say: This place had everything. A billionaire Chinese investor who might be going broke. An automotive startup trying to survive a media witch-hunt. Employees who wanted to talk, but wouldn’t give their names. A shortage of hors d’oeuvres. A Ferrari. A Bentley. A Tesla. A meaningless drag race. An unflappable Englishman who should be CEO but inexplicably isn’t. An engineer in a bad shirt two sizes too small. A sea of foreign media who sat through it all with rictus grins. A car that failed in its moment of truth.

My God. The missing money. The opaque company structure. The over-long reveal. The vague plan. This is what happens when no one is in charge. It wouldn’t matter if Faraday had $10B in the bank. Remove words like mobility and connectivity and what’s left?

Read the rest over at The Drive

The Missouri Auto Dealers Association Hates You, Tesla & America

1 Jan

Tesla

America is under attack, but it’s not the Russians we need to be worried about. It’s car dealers. Not all car dealers are bad, but even the good ones are protected by bad laws, and all of them are protected by dealer associations, who are like ISIS, the IRS and cancer rolled into one.

All four horsemen of the American economic apocalypse — cronyism, cowardice, hypocrisy and protectionism — are represented by dealer associations. The worst of the lot, those of Texas, Michigan and Virginia, are now joined by Missouri’s MADA, whose legal victory over Tesla may deprive them of the right to sell cars in that state.

We need a new House on Un-American Activities Commission, this one focused on anti-competitive forces, who are the real Communists among us.

Competition is at the heart of American economic strength. The opposite of competition is Communism, central planning and failure. Competition is how the United States won the Cold War. It’s how and why species, technologies and business evolve and grow. It’s why homo sapiens are the dominant biped, the World Wide Web crushed the Minitel, and Google eclipsed AltaVista. It’s why everyone is scrambling to catch to Tesla by embracing the technologies they’ve pioneered.

Dealer associations like MADA are terrified of competition, and by attempting to stifle it are hurting you, and weakening our auto sector and the country itself.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Does FCA Have A Secret Self-Driving Car Project?

29 Dec

FCA secret

Fiat Chrysler has a secret self-driving car project, according to The Information, who make the claim in an extraordinarily vague op-ed entitled “Fiat’s Secret Self-Driving Car Shows How The Industry May Evolve.”

So, does FCA actually have a secret self-driving car project?

I’m a big fan of The Information, but there’s so little information in their article that it’s almost impossible to know what FCA has, if anything. Let’s deconstruct the article paragraph by paragraph and try to separate fact from conjecture.

“Fiat Chrysler has garnered outsized headlines for becoming the first traditional carmaker to make electric minivans with self-driving technology designed by Alphabet’s Waymo.”

Fact. Not a surprise as much as an insurance policy against total irrelevance in an autonomous future. FCA had never previously admitted to the existence of any self-driving research program, so any deal with Waymo opens the door for them to become Waymo’s automotive Foxconn, a role Daimler famously rejected but FCA would seem to need.

“Behind the scenes, however, Fiat Chrysler is developing its own autonomous vehicles so that it won’t be just a metal bender for tech companies like Waymo, The Information has learned.”

Really? This suggests FCA has a real program, as in a team capable building a self-driving car, which means they now join the other thirteen major manufacturers with a similar program with varying degrees of progress.

Or does it?

Read the rest over at The Drive

Why “Tesla Killers” Were the Biggest Disappointment of 2016

27 Dec

Tesla Killers

Without a doubt, “Tesla Killers” are the biggest disappointment of 2016.

It’s been more than fifty years since self-driving cars first appeared in science fiction films, 26 years since Johnny Cab’s cameo in Total Recall, 20+ years since manufacturers began developing prototypes, 12 years since the first DARPA Challenge, and 16 months since Tesla released their semi-autonomous Autopilot.

Self-driving cars? No one can claim they were a surprise.

But wait, there’s more.

It’s almost 150 years since the first electric car, 120 years since the first swappable battery service, 115 years since the first electric taxis in London, 50+ years of increasingly toxic dependency on Middle Eastern “allies”, 40 years since the OPEC crisis, 37 years since the Iranian Revolution, 25 years since Desert Storm, 16 years since 9/11, and 13 years since the invasion of Iraq.

Internal combustion won for a variety of reasons, but the big one—reliable flow of cheap oil—has been evaporating for decades. No one claim the rising appeal of electrification is a surprise.

But wait, there’s more.

It’s been 118 years since the first car dealership opened in the Unites States, and it’s been downhill ever since. Have you ever met anyone who loved their car dealer? People hate them. Nearly 75% of buyers would prefer to do their shopping online, and yet manufacturers have negotiated themselves into a corner, trapping end-users in a debilitating relationship with dealers who serve no one well.

But wait, there’s more.

Read the rest over at The Drive

What The Honda/Waymo Partnership Really Means

22 Dec

Waymo

Honda and Waymo, the self-driving car company from Alphabet Inc. (parent company of Google), have announced a partnership—specifically, according to the press release, a “technical collaboration of fully self-driving automobile technology”. But what does that mean, exactly?

This: The self-driving car dam is breaking, if it hasn’t broken already. If you’re a car company without a self-driving car program, or if after billions of dollars of R&D yours doesn’t do what Google’s does … Waymo is the answer.

You don’t need to be Nostradamus to know that while Tesla and Uber have been grabbing all the headlines, Google/Alphabet has long had the world’s most advanced self-driving car program. Since its 2009 inception, speculation about their intentions has been rampant.

Now, we can get a sense of what they’re up to.

We know that Waymo, Alphabet’s recently announced self-driving spinoff, has gathered 2M+ miles of high-resolution driving data, the majority of it in Northern California. Tesla has orders of magnitude more, but they don’t use LIDAR, which skeptics believe is essential for full self-driving capabilities. We know Waymo’s parent possesses virtually unlimited resources and data on individual search, shopping habits, and location. We know that Wayno is hiring experts in licensing. We know that, prior to its spinoff, Waymo had approached multiple manufacturers about partnerships, presumably to license their software platform in return for user data, perhaps even to control the in-car content ecosystem (think: self-driving car “drivers” watching the newest Hollywood blockbuster via Google Play).

There’s incredible value on both ends of that continuum. Every Honda mile driven with Waymo’s platform gathers priceless data, improving the platform. On the other end, control the content ecosystem, control the data, own the user, print money.

There’s a reason your phone almost certainly runs Android or iOS. Remember Nokia? Blackberry?

Read the rest over at The Drive